Illinois Main Street Conference wraps up in Pontiac
Another central Illinois town played host this year to the annual conference that connects community members and leaders interested in revitalizing their downtowns, Main Streets or commercial corridors.
After the Illinois Main Street Conference came to Bloomington in 2022, the city of Pontiac hosted the event this year, an opportunity member communities apply to have.
The civically-themed conference drew Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton to Pontiac on Wednesday to speak and deliver awards to member communities; Stratton has championed the conference since assuming the lieutenant governorship in 2019, shortly after the national Main Street America group revived it after a loss of funding in 2015.
"What I really saw was the networking. Communities coming together at the same tables, getting to know each other, exchanging ideas, and really just thinking about how important it is — at least that's what I thought about in terms of how important it is — that we all do our part to continue uplifting our state," Stratton told WGLT.
There are 21 member communities spanning the state, including the cities of Bloomington and Jacksonville west of Springfield that hosted the conference in 2021. Member communities' goals include boosting the economic health of commercial zones in historic downtown or Main Street areas, as well as drawing tourists and carving out or emphasizing a unique identity. At this year's conference, topics of discussion ranged from how to leverage AI in community revitalization to how to keep small towns on the map.
"That's the best thing about Main Street [communities] working together — when people come up with these ideas, they don't expect you to come up with your own idea. ... If you're like, 'Hey, can I bring that to my town?' They're like, 'Yes, you can, and here's how you do it,'" said Misty Bell, the city of Pontiac's Main Street programming director. "We all just share these things."
Like other municipalities in the region, Pontiac is gearing up for the 100-year-anniversary of Route 66 in 2026. Bell said she hopes the city can take ideas gleaned from this year's conference and put them into place on top of what the city already has implemented — thereby maximizing the economic gain from tourism.
The hope is "we're able to wow them with just how amazing Pontiac is and everything that we have to offer," Bell said. "You seriously could spend days in Pontiac and not see everything. We just have that many great sights, we have that many great murals, and that many great shops."
This year's Illinois Main Street Conference concluded on Thursday.